If you've been reading the Sunday Night Journal since its early days (2004(!)), you may remember that from time to time I mentioned "the dogs": walking the dogs, feeding the dogs, being amused or annoyed by the dogs. I also mentioned cats. At the time we had two dogs and three cats. Since then the ranks have thinned out considerably, and we are now down to one dog and one cat, Andy and Meme (pronounced "Mimi").
Of all these animals, only Meme was deliberately acquired by the people who had the care of them for the past ten years or so, i.e. my wife and me. Like many parents, we came to have pets which were either requested (begged for) by one of the children, or bequeathed to us by an out-of-the-nest child who was moving to a place where he/she couldn't take the animal along. Andy was a sort of accident. Someone my wife worked with was trying to give him away, and my wife was the intermediary for the dog to be given to our nieces (her brother's children). It turned out that the girls were allergic to the dog and wanted to give him back. But the original owner didn't want him. So we were stuck with him.
Andy is a bichon. He was so cute that he even charmed my wife, who is not a dog lover. Of course all puppies are cute, but he was especially so--a little ball of white fluff. Full-grown, he looks something like an animated teddy bear. The other dog was Lucy. She died in 2015, more or less of old age, as she was about the same age as the century. She was only a little older than Andy, but she was a big(ger) dog, and apparently small dogs live longer. (The two cats also died more or less of old age--more in one case, as she was over twenty.) We aren't sure exactly how old Andy is but we think he's about sixteen. I know we had him in 2002, but I think not very much earlier than that, maybe a year, so he was probably born in 2001.
Age is really catching up with him now. Something or other I read about bichons years ago described them as "merry," and it's a good word. They are very attached to people, very affectionate, and lively without being hyperactive, as so many small dogs are. I'm one of those (probably a majority of the human race) who dislike, if not detest, small dogs that exercise their high-pitched yap with hysterical frequency and intensity. Happily, Andy is not like that. In spite of his twelve-pound size, his bark is not gratingly squeaky, and he doesn't bark any more, or any more frantically, than any other dog. Until recently he was sometimes subject to what is known as the "bichon buzz," in which he would run around the house at top speed, leaping wildly over any obstacle, flying up, over, and down the furniture. It's a funny sight.
He hasn't buzzed for a long time now. Once in a while he still gets a little playful, but it doesn't last very long. His eyesight is going. He's not blind, and I can't tell for sure (of course) exactly how well he can see, but it's obviously not very well: he walks into things. And he apparently doesn't hear as well, either. If someone, for instance a 5-year-old grandchild, comes within a foot or two of him and then makes a loud noise, Andy is violently startled, and afraid--he hasn't seen or heard it coming and doesn't know what it is. He's often afraid in general, trembling violently in any stressful situation, such as getting a bath or going to the vet. He and Lucy used to start barking when someone walked down our street even before they came into sight, and long before I heard or saw them. Now Andy apparently doesn't hear this at all, or perhaps he just doesn't care anymore. At any rate he goes for days at a time never barking at all, even when a UPS driver comes to the front porch.
In his prime he was something of an alpha dog. He generally seemed to be the boss with Lucy, in spite of the fact that she outweighed him five to one. And he was feisty and even commanding with other dogs, no matter how big they were. Once two poodles, fifty or sixty pounds each, were loose down at the bay where I was letting Andy run around, and in no time at all he was the boss. He seemed to have no idea of the disparity in size, or that they could have dispatched him with a few snaps of the jaws. Now he quails at the approach of any other dog.
His attachment to us has a sort of neurotic edge now. He gets a little frantic when I walk away, because he seems to have trouble following me, and he can't settle down until I do. When both my wife and I are here, it upsets him for us to be in different rooms, and he hurries back and forth between us, making worried little sounds.
I think he's arthritic. Sometimes his back legs seem to just go out from under him. He's always been a little skittish about steps, but now I have to give him a little push to start him down the front steps, and others he won't attempt at all, so I just pick him up and take him up or down.
Worse, he's losing some control over his bladder. I have to remember to take him out every hour or two if I don't want to find a puddle somewhere. Fortunately we don't have a lot of rugs and carpeting in the house. And when he gets upset about something--for instance, being stuck with a flight of stairs between him and the people, and unable to get to us--he's liable to lose it even if it hasn't been all that long since he went out. If you're wondering why I don't just make him stay outside most of the time, it's because it would make him crazy, and because he would be thoroughly flea-infested, and when he has flea bites, or any other skin irritation, it becomes a major problem, as he chews and licks on himself until he creates bloody ulcers.
In short, he's a lot of trouble. Always has been, really, but more now. Oh yeah, one more thing: we can't travel anywhere that involves one or more nights away without boarding him--and the cat if it's more than one night--because there's no one close by who can come and feed them. So why do we have them? I'm fond of Andy, and will miss him when he's gone, but I won't be heartbroken. How decrepit would he have to get before we decided to "put him to sleep"? The only answer I can give you is "Much worse." And as to the "why," well, partly it's just the way I am--soft-hearted. But lately there's a little more to it than that.
I was in my mid-fifties when I started the Sunday Night Journal. I'm now in my late sixties. Victor Hugo once said that "Fifty is the youth of old age." I amended that to sixty, because we tend to live longer now. But I'm nearing the end of that youth and feeling a little alarmed at the approach of actual old age. Fortunately I'm in good health overall, so I don't have much cause for serious complaint, but it seems that every few months there is a new addition to the list of Things That Hurt or Things That Don't Work Right Anymore.
And in my mind there is a semi-superstitious connection between my old age and Andy's. I feel as if there's some sort of do-as-you-would-be-done-by principle involved, as if my treatment of him is somehow going to affect the way I'm treated if I live long enough to get pretty decrepit. Or then again maybe it's just sympathy for one old creature for another. I see him anxious and struggling to figure out, in dog terms, what's going on around him, or afraid to go down a flight of stairs because he's feeble and he can't see clearly, and I think "That may be me in five or ten years." And I feel more patient.
Obviously I like animals, and am perhaps a bit unusual in being neither a dog person nor a cat person, but liking both. But I'm a little horrified by the recent tendency of people to talk of their pets as if they were their children. I was shocked once when someone referred to me as "Lucy and Andy's dad." NO!
Sometimes a guest appropriates your favorite chair and good manners dictate that you just have to accept it. This is my daughter's dog.
I've never read Anne of Green Gables. I don't know if it's a good book or not. But I gather it doesn't merit the "dark" and/or "gritty" TV adaptation that's recently been released. At Dappled Things, Michael Rennier has a good discussion of the odd trend of which this is only one example: the impulse to take some kind of beloved and relatively innocent classic and give it the dark-'n'-gritty treatment.
This darkening of the classics to achieve modern relevance is an ongoing problem (I’m looking at you, Brideshead Revisited) because it seems as though our storytelling has lost confidence in the fact that there is actual goodness to be found in the world, actual, real-life goodness buried deep in the marrow of creation.
I don't disagree with that, and no doubt it's part of the story. But I think there's also something more fundamental and worse at work: an actual desire to sully or even defile the good and innocent simply because it is good and innocent, and the one doing the sullying knows that he is not. Anyway it makes me think of Dylan's lines:
While one who sang with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat-race choir
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole that he's in
--from "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)"
Movies started getting dark-'n'-gritty at the end of the 1960s; I think Bonnie and Clyde, in 1968, was one of the first examples. Some of that was a desire to break out of the Hollywood tendency toward sentimentality and idealization and general un-reality, and it produced some good work. But at this point dark-'n'-gritty has become its own form of sentimentality.
Speaking of movies, I notice that a Wonder Woman movie (called Wonder Woman, if I'm not mistaken) is a big hit. I know it's the latest in a long line of movies about comic-book superheroes, of which I've seen only a few. I saw the first Spiderman movie, which I enjoyed, and the second one, which I didn't much like. And I watched one of the Batman "Dark Knight" movies on TV, the one with the very creepy Joker, and didn't much like it. I don't have any interest in seeing more of this type of thing. Big noisy action movies featuring heroes (or heroines) with more or less magical powers actually tend to bore me. There's not much real dramatic tension because the more-or-less magical things that happen just seem arbitrary, like Wile E. Coyote falling a thousand feet, making a hole in the ground, climbing out of it, and getting after the Road Runner again.
Batman, Superman, and other superhero comics were very popular when I was growing up (I was twelve in 1960), in what I have just learned from Wikipedia is considered the Silver Age of comics (1956-1970). I read them and enjoyed them when I ran across them, usually at a friend's house, but I wasn't really an enthusiast and didn't go much out of my way to get hold of them. It seems to me that self-conscious and obsessive comic-book fandom developed sometime after the mid-1960s. Obviously a lot of people are very much into it, and serious critics are writing seriously about the movies. Well, it's lost on me, and in fact I'm a little puzzled by the whole phenomenon. Maybe it's just because I'm old.